I’m Here, But Not Really: Reflecting on Living Locally

by Caris White | 10/7/20 2:21am

floater_carolynsilverstein
by Carolyn Silverstein / The Dartmouth

My home this fall is in Enfield, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes from campus. I’m part of the significant portion of students living locally off campus, a community that spans several towns scattered within a roughly 45-minute radius of campus.

For me, moving to New Hampshire for the term was an act of compromise. I didn’t get on-campus housing, but I wanted to salvage whatever I could of the college experience I’d fallen in love with over the past year. A solid contingent of my friends were also returning to the Upper Valley, and although I love my parents dearly, I was going stir-crazy at home. 

So I coordinated with my roommate, scrounged for housing and eventually found a tiny place right on Lake Mascoma. I’m pretty sure that aside from me and my roommate, there’s not another Dartmouth student anywhere nearby. It’s gorgeous here, but I miss the constant socialization of living with a few thousand other college kids. So, I make a point to drive into Hanover frequently to satisfy my craving for Lou’s pastries and the college experience. 

What this means is although I spend a lot of time at Dartmouth — I pass through campus almost every day — I’m not there, not really. While I can sit on the Green with my friends and eat Tuk Tuk until the sun goes down, at the end of the day I have to go home. And as much as I want it to be, Dartmouth isn’t home anymore.

In a way, it feels like I have an unrequited crush on college. I want Dartmouth — its classes, its clubs, its resources and mostly its people — but Dartmouth doesn’t want me. Dartmouth doesn’t want me in the libraries, in the dorms, in Greek houses or in Foco. I can look but not touch: The familiar beauty of Baker Tower greets me every time I drive through Hanover, but the ID checks in Novack are a harsh reminder that I’m not welcome inside. 

I miss living in the dorms, studying in the library and even eating Dartmouth Dining — I’m not sure what Collis puts in their stir fry, but I’ve never been able to replicate it. Most of my favorite memories from last year happened inside physical spaces that I can no longer access, making me feel weirdly locked out of a college experience that I had only just begun. I know it’s normal for college graduates to feel a wistful sense of nostalgia when they come back to visit, but having that emotion as a current sophomore just doesn’t feel right.

However closed off campus is to me, there are joys that remain untarnished. As last weekend reminded me, a Saturday afternoon on the Green is still perfect. The baristas at Dirt Cowboy will replicate KAF chocolate milk and espresso if you’re nice, and you get to feel good about supporting a local business in the process. I’ve also bought too many rings from the ring man, tried Boloco for the first time — the teriyaki burrito is better than it sounds — and run through the pouring rain while cradling Han Fusion takeout.

Because of moments like these, my appreciation for the town of Hanover and the Upper Valley as a whole has grown exponentially this fall. I spend lots of time driving from place to place, so tracking the hillsides’ progression from green to yellow, orange and red has become one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve also finally situated Dartmouth within the larger geography of New England, because all I really knew last year was that it was vaguely two hours from Boston and the weather got cold fast. 

I would be remiss not to mention the element of privilege that pervades the off-campus housing scene. It’s a luxury to be able to leave the free room and board of living at home just to take remote classes from a different part of the world. While it feels like a relatively large number of students are living scattered throughout the region, to say everyone is here would be blatantly false. The hodgepodge community I’ve found this fall has been truly wonderful, but to access the full breadth of the Dartmouth experience, we’re just going to have to wait for a full return. 

In the meantime, I’ll be here but not here, learning to enjoy long drives, distanced walks around Occom Pond and the entire menu of Dirt Cowboy Cafe. Between my physical presence in New Hampshire and off-term status, it feels like I’m at college but not in college. I’m crossing my fingers for winter term, because while being at college is great, I really miss being let inside.